Savoring the Solitude on Mount Monadnock (Not!)

When friends planning a group hike up Mount Monadnock asked which day I would recommend, Sunday or Monday, I instantly replied, “Monday; it’s less crowded. You’ll be wading through teeming hordes on a Sunday.”

So on a bright, blustery and chilly Monday last week seven of us rendezvoused at the base parking lot in Jaffrey, N.H., strapped on day packs and began tramping up the White Dot Trail, the most popular route to the 3,165-foot summit.

Though only about two miles long, the path ascends steadily and steeply in sections, particularly over bare ledge near the top, making it a worthy climb, especially for the expansive views from the peak. Monadnock, derived from an Abenaki word loosely translated as “mountain that stands alone” because it rises 1,000 feet higher than any nearby hilltop, inspired such writers as Henry David Thoreau and Ralph Waldo Emerson, who clambered to the top on several occasions. A couple lookouts on Monadnock bear their names.

These days some 125,000 people scale Monadnock annually, making it the most-climbed mountain in America, and third in the world behind only Japan’s Mt. Fuji (about 200,000 hikers) and the Chinese peak Tai Shan (reportedly visited by 2 million people a year). Peak baggers also consider Monadnock, a National Natural Landmark, one of the 50 finest mountains in New England.

Our merry band included longtime kayaking-hiking buds Mary Lou Lowrie and Nat Steele, who were on their way back from her son’s wedding on Long Island to their home in Maine; Phil Warner, a kayaking pal who lives in Massachusetts; Bob Graham, with whom I run almost every morning – in fact, Bob, Mary Lou, Nat and I went for a jog together an hour before driving up to Monadnock; Jenna Cho; a newspaper colleague and fellow outdoor enthusiast who I accompanied one long day last year on a 22-mile hike of the Narragansett Trail; and Karin Crompton, who I never got around to hiking with when she worked as a reporter, but at Jenna’s urging managed to get the day off from her real estate business and responsibilities as the mother of a 3-year-old.

A relative novice to mountain trails, she asked me about the difficulty of Monadnock.

“It’s a bastard,” I replied, suppressing a mischievous grin.

As we ascended I noticed quite a few teenage boys on their way down.

“Playing hooky?” I asked one kid taking a break.

“Naaah. It’s a school thing.”

Soon more teenagers emerged from the path ahead of us, whooping, hollering and sliding down rock faces.

“Try it face-first,” I joked, and then shouted, “Wait!” when one turned to the kid next to him and cried, “Dude! Let’s do it!”

We now were at the steepest section, with room for only one person at a time to go up or down, and my heart sank. A line of dozens of descending hikers stretched uphill and disappeared into the trees. Amid this sea of raging hormones an adult head appeared.

“What is this? A class trip?” I asked.

He nodded. “Mountain Day at Eaglebrook School,” he said, referring to a junior boarding school in nearby Deerfield, Mass. “We do it once every year.” Our lucky day.

“How many kids?” I asked.

“More than 250.”

So we waited, waited and waited while the teenagers slid down, one after another, until finally another teacher called out, “Hey guys, hold up a minute. Let these folks pass.”

We scrambled by and soon poked above tree line. Normally trees in New England stop growing at about 4,000 feet, but fires set by 19th century settlers lowered the line by about 1,000 feet on Monadnock and created its signature bare summit.

The wind whipped up to about 30 mph and temperature dropped into the 40s, so we hastily donned shells, hats and mittens before proceeding to the top.

A jutting rock at the summit created a perfect windbreak and we huddled in the lee, making extra room for Phil, the only one in the group with enough sense to bring chocolate peanut butter cups instead of granola and other tasteless snacks.

As we munched away before preparing to descend I thought about the Eaglebrook students.

Having an entire school climb a mountain together is a good thing, I decided. I’m always glad to see people enjoying the outdoors.

But maybe next time I head for Monadnock I’ll call the school first to make sure it’s not Mountain Day.



Reader Comments


Autumn Berries: A Succulent Reward During A Long Bike Ride

While biking through the hills and along the shore of Mystic and Stonington the other day with my friend Spyros "Spy" Barres and son Tom, I began to regret that I neglected to bring along a water bottle.

The Rites – And Wrongs – Of Autumn

It’s finally happened: I’ve grown so accustomed to the roar of the leaf blower that I now longer recoil and curse at the first sonic blast of fall, but simply shake my head and sigh.

Privacy/Preservation: The Roads Not Taken At Fishers Island And Other Enclaves

Imagine strolling to the tip of one of Connecticut’s most magnificent natural habitats, Bluff Point Coastal Reserve in Groton, and instead of gazing at tidal marshes, salt ponds and sweeping, unspoiled view of Fishers Island Sound,...

Part II: Serenity, Solitude And Soggy Socks In The Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness

When we last left Tom and Steve, they were paddling through muck and mire (though mostly sparkling water) in northeastern Minnesota’s Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. Here is the second and final installment describing...

Serenity, Solitude And Soggy Socks In The Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness

Gusty blasts that shook our tent during the night blew away thick clouds and rain showers, bringing morning sunshine that sparkled on Cherokee Lake when my son Tom and I crawled from sleeping bags last week.

The Continental Divide Trail: 'Overall It's Amazing, But You Have To Be OK With Getting Lost'

After tramping more than a month some 700 miles along the fabled Continental Divide Trail, Mystic native Hilary Sueoka and her boyfriend, Dan Stedman, who started hiking April 22 at the U.S.-Mexican border, finally rambled from the...

The Josh Billings Runaground Triathlon: Racing Is The Easy Part.

By the time Phil Warner and I hit the water in his lightning-fast tandem kayak last Sunday for our team’s leg in the Josh Billings Runaground Triathlon in Lenox, Mass., we had already spent a good part of the morning lugging gear...

There’s No Accounting For Taste When It Comes To Favorite Mountains, Or Tacos

En route to a hiking expedition in Nepal’s Himalayas a number of years ago, my wife and I took a detour to India and spent a day bouncing along on a bus from New Delhi to Agra to tour the Taj Mahal.

Mount McKinley Renamed Denali: Better Than Mount Reagan

Three cheers for the Obama Administration’s decision this week to officially restore the name of North America’s tallest mountain to Denali, which is what early inhabitants called the 20,310-foot peak in the Alaska Range.

The Endless Summer: Too Much Of A Good Thing?

Remember when you were a kid how your mom wouldn’t let you have ice cream every day even though nothing in the world tasted better on a hot day than a double scoop of butter crunch?